The evening started off in a great burger joint just up the road from the Kentish Town Forum (KTF from now on). It's called 'Dirty Burger' and if you haven't already, I strongly urge you to check it out next time you're in the area. "So why am I telling you about a burger joint in North London?" I hear you ask. Well, I thought I'd slip in the fact that whilst we were busy chowing down on our BBQ burgers with Chorizo and cheese, none other than British acting royalty Jude Law wanders in, if it's good enough for him, it's gotta be good enough for anyone!
I digress. Let's pick up the story after we entered the KTF building, explained to the security guard why I had my laptop with me and was forced to sink a can of Red Bull (gives you wings™) prior to being allowed into the venue….
Being invited along to the show (thanks to SOAK's management team), we were asked where we would like to be in the building. Naturally we opted for a seated position as I had been plodding the streets of London all day, my feet were fit for no more standing and I am sure my colleague was glad of the break too.
We chatted prior to the show and got into an interesting debate about how bands that acquire a large following very early on in their careers manage to retain the interest of fans after the initial hype/mania has died off. This conversation soon came to a close after reeling off acts such as Arctic Monkeys, One Direction and Justin Bieber who, aside from 'The Bieber' having a penchant for driving fast sports cars whilst wasted on dope and liquor, have managed to do pretty well and make a good living out of it all. I guess what we were trying to say was a band such as CHVRCHES, being on their debut headlining tour, filling the KTF two nights on the roll (2100 capacity) is indeed a remarkable feat in itself. Would they be able to perform live as well as people expect them to? Well sit back, and we'll tell you all about it.
SOAK (Northern Irish singer songwriter who recently signed to CHVRCHES's record label) took to the stage at 8pm prompt and played songs from her repertoire. One interesting track was 'Blud'; having only heard the CHVRCHES remix of this track, it was refreshing to hear it in it's natural form, untouched by processors, effects and general meddling. She sounded and looked confident; I dare say that she may have had a few butterflies in her stomach prior to taking to the stage but we think she did a marvellous job and look forward to more of her material being released in the future. My colleague Cliff was impressed with her voice and her confidence, and thought her simple, androgynous look let the songs be the star - all very much a coherent set, many similarities from song to song, but delightfully soulful and pleasant.
Prior to the main act, let me just get a couple of things off my chest that annoy the bejesus out of me at gigs, believe me, I'll feel better about it once I let them out….
- Everyone thinking that the recording of the entire performance taken using a low grade camera on their smartphones will look/sound any better than me playing my mum's old Dansette '45 player in the shallow end of a swimming pool whilst wearing ear defenders.
- People talking throughout the support act. This is rude and I would have applauded SOAK if she were to have stopped mid performance and asked people to shut the hell up so that she could gain their attention for 30 minutes rather than gassing on to their mates about how great their camera is on their smartphone and how cool the whole thing would look/sound the following morning after the eight pints of cheap gassy beer from the bar had worn off…
Rant over folks… on with the review.
Sorry, I lied, another thing that surprised (and annoyed me mildly) at the show was the amount of photographers and camera crew in the security area at the front of the stage, you'd have thought that Elvis had come back from living on the moon to play a one night only show at the KTF. I appreciate that the show was being filmed (check for information on a forthcoming live DVD/BluRay combo) but how many do they need to complete this task? At one stage during CHVRCHES performance, I counted eight. Incredible.
Alongside a sign that said that I looked like a pickpocket (to which I took mild offence) there was another which said that strobes would be used during the show. What it should have said is that there maybe spells of time throughout the performance where strobes would NOT be used. Yes folks, strobes were used rather plentifully throughout the performance, not just the brightest white strobes but coloured strobes too, madness.
The stage was setup very plainly. Two 'consoles' for Iain Cook and Martin Doherty containing their equipment (no doubt a selection of Bontempi organs with built in Bossanova buttons and associated jiggery-pokery) and a central microphone stand for the lovely Lauren Mayberry to use.
Whilst being treated to some great background music whilst waiting for the main event to kick off, we tried to come up with as many 3 piece bands that are made up of the same format as CHVRCHES (MMF), see if there's any that we missed;
Yeah Yeah Yeah's
N-Dubz? We'll leave it there….
After an altercation with a lady who had been assured that there were 2 seats next to my colleague (I had gone gone to check out the facilities) had run its course, I returned, oblivious to the fact that she wasn't very happy about it and had to seek alternative seating arrangements further up the balcony, the lights dimmed and atmospheric electronic music filled the room.
For those wondering about the altercation, it went like this.
SCARY POSH LADY stands next to CLIFF, seated, and she begins to sit.
CLIFF: Oh, sorry, excuse me, that seat's taken. My friend's actually sitting there?
SCARY POSH LADY: Well, I can't see him!
CLIFF: Well no, he's gone to the toilet. But that's his bag, his coat, and his notebook, there. Perhaps sufficient evidence for his existance.
SCARY POSH LADY: Well we were told there were two seats free up here!
CLIFF: That may well be the case. But not in this bit, madam.
CLIFF holds her gaze. She is defeated. The young man, right, and the couple behind, share a look with Cliff and all smile nervously.
CLIFF: That wasn't just me, was it? Jesus.
But at least it let Cliff invent the term 'Too Posh to Mosh'.
I read up on live reviews of past CHVRCHES shows and many spoke about a short set, circa 45 minutes. I guess that armed only with their debut album and not having much time to create new music of late, they are a little limited to what material they can offer. At the KTF gig, they played for a little over an hour, covering their debut album in full, which to me, for a band of their current standing was more than adequate. I guess they could have played some cover versions or remixes of other bands material but this was THERE night and boy, did they deliver.
I haven't been to the venue for a number of years and I did wonder how the sound may hold up in the vastness of the room, we were impressed, the music sounded great, though I did find it hard to hear Lauren between tracks (maybe just my age). Cliff struggled to distinguish the lyrics at all for the most part, but enjoyed the performance regardless.
Towards the end of the set, Lauren and Martin swapped over for a song, I think it was 'Under The Tide'. We were treated to some very energetic dancing that I can say would not make you very popular if you tried to copy the style in an enclosed space….great fun.
They played their 'last song' but guess what? after they left the stage, they came back on again, I kid you not folks, it really happened….
Upon taking to the stage for the encore, they treated the crowd to a new track that they had only played live on a few occasions during the current tour. This was a slower burning track using keys/guitar and bass and exploded with sound and colour for a climax, ensuring the crowd were all bouncing. A great way to end a great night.
CHVRCHES thanked the crowd for making the show the success that it was and said that this had been their biggest UK date so far. I am sure this will change come the summer when they'll be plastered all over festival billboards, playing to the likes of 100k+ fans in damp field in Somerset.
They are very much a 'band of the moment', complete with their animated stage presence, anthemic songs and niche electronic/pop sound. I don't doubt for one minute that they will go on to achieve great things, we are proud to say that we were a part of this first sell out London date and look forward to many more in the future.
Words - Steve Muscutt & Cliff Chapman
Photo - Unknown photographer at The Forum in Melbourne Australia 29/1/14